By Secretary Richard Hall, Department of Planning
Earlier this week, Governor O’Malley accepted “PlanMaryland,” our State’s first long-range plan for sustainable growth and a vision that will allow us to invest in a smarter, greener, more prosperous future. We need smart growth for a number of reasons. But it really boils down to a simple concept: we need to believe enough in tomorrow to invest in it today.
Today, I see the waterways that I enjoyed as a boy growing up on the Eastern Shore continually threatened, the rural areas I helped protect as a county planner being overtaken, and some cities and towns struggling economically as growth has spread far beyond them. For decades now, we have been over-consuming our land, destroying farms and forests, harming our environment and over-crowding our under-invested transit ways leading to some of the worst commute times in our country. For decades, we have been moving in a direction that’s not sustainable, not cost-effective and imperils the very reasons we love Maryland.
Between 1982 and 2007, total farmland declined by one-fifth, or 500,000 acres. The fragmentation and suburbanization of farmland has made it more difficult for remaining farmers to assemble large enough parcels to achieve economies of scale in production. If current trends continue, we will lose another 226,000 acres by 2035. Much of that land will be converted to homes on septic systems; homes that will represent about one-quarter of new residences in Maryland but will churn out three-quarters of the nitrogen pollution into the Bay.
“Business as usual” on sprawl doesn’t work. If current trends continue, we estimate that we would need more than 15,000 new miles of roads; roads that would cost $110 billion. But hope is not lost. A smarter-growth approach could save an estimated $1.5 billion a year in infrastructure costs during the next 20 years. It would also cut down the time Marylanders spend in traffic. In 2009, Marylanders spent more than 700 million hours commuting, time valued at almost $9 billion. By investing in a smart approach to development, moms and dads will be able to spend more time with their kids and less time sitting in traffic.
Planning and land development are complicated issues that we can only hope to tackle together. PlanMaryland is about working together to make the investments today that allow our children and grandchildren to enjoy the same quality of life that we have tomorrow. It’s my hope that my two young sons are able to visit my hometown on the Eastern Shore in 30 years and enjoy the same beauty that I saw as a young man. With Plan Maryland, I believe they will.
Martin O'Malley is the Governor of Maryland. He writes a regular blog for his official website.